Working on peace of mind

"We've had fire, flood and fire in the last three years and we hope not to see more," says John Bartlett.

Despite the trials of the past three years, John and Christine Bartlett love their home, a patch of paradise, near the Grampians National Park in western Victoria.

The emergency

Flooding across Western Victoria in 2011 affected more than 3,300 properties and 97 towns. Red Cross is working closely with communities, local governments, recovery agencies and the State Government to support communities as they recover, providing personal support and practical resources across the affected areas. By early December 2011, Red Cross volunteers had supported more than 3600 people in their homes.

"I absolutely love it. When you look around, we are in a sort of a valley and there are mountains all around," John says. Life has not always been so rosy for John. When he was 19, he was heading to Vietnam with the army and he nearly died while training. "I was discharged through an accident and so I couldn't settle down to any job." Life was tough.

After a few more years in Melbourne, John and Christine made a 'tree change' and moved to far western Victoria. They now live in the Dadswells Bridge area near Horsham.

"I love birds, I love all animals. I think about the only animal that I don't really like is a huntsman. It's only because it looks creepy. Snakes don't worry me as long as they just keep out of the way." Carol says. It is fortunate that Carol does not fear snakes. Since the floods in January 2011, they have seen more than ever, including deadly brown and tiger snakes.

Christine and John are both retired and they love the variety of animals they see daily. "When we first moved here, we had deer; we'd wake up one morning and have a donkey on our doorstep - all sorts of varieties of birds," John says.

Christine and John Bartlett are making sure they are better prepared for any possible future disaster after their experience with the Victorian floods in January 2011. Credit: Australian Red Cross/Rodney Dekker

In January 2011, Christine and John say their beautiful world came crashing down. Without much notice the floods swept through. "In the time that it takes to boil the jug for a cuppa there was water just gushing like a waterfall across our driveway. We got flooded from both sides of our property instead of just from the creek," Christine recalls.

Both John and Christine have volunteered with for the Country Fire Authority over the years, so they had a bit of a plan. Indeed, the year before, their house had been threatened by a large bushfire. This time, John says, they were not prepared enough and the whole situation was very stressful. "I'm not a person that cries but I did have a little tear in the eye there a couple of times thinking I have no idea what to do."

"What we were concerned about was what we were going to lose, what we had lost and what was going to happen afterwards," John says openly.

Adding to the tensions, Christine had serious health concerns. "I've got emphysema and I'm sort of bordering on the line of having to go on the oxygen for the 14-15 hours a day. It was very stressful, I ended up going to hospital for one night," just after the floods hit.

When they were finally told they could go home after seven days in motel rooms and relief centres, Christine and John found they were cut off by the Wimmera River and had to stay a few more days in town. Christine says she will never forget driving down the road and first seeing their property.

"When we came into our place, it looked like a bomb had hit it because there was - we had some really big trees come down. It was grey, it was dirty, it was all slushy and, yeah, it was really awful and what fences there were left standing up - were all full of the hanging debris," Christine says emotionally.

"My God, what a bloody mess, there was just stuff floating everywhere," John adds.

Christine has trouble remembering it all. "Just after we got back I collapsed again and they took me to the hospital because I had bleeding in the brain as well as a stroke," she says. Christine was in hospital for about eight days.

John has some health issues as well, "seven years ago I was diagnosed with diabetes," John says. Over recent years and particularly since the floods, he says his health has vastly improved.

"I never thought I'd enjoy going for walks... I do. Just about every day there's something different to see. I might see a snake going across the road and that gets the blood pressure going or adrenalin going anyway." John has also been keeping fit with hard labour, re-fencing and cleaning up their property.

John lost "countless thousands of dollars worth of tools" in the floods so they were both very grateful when a small grant came through from the Victorian Floods Disaster Relief Fund. "It helped out a lot. It just took a little edge off the feeling so horrible about what happened, you know. It gave you a bit of a smile that someone was helping you out," Christine says.

"Red Cross were always there, they wanted to give us a hand and they left a few booklets, they helped us out, a bit of peace of mind. You didn't feel so stressed."

- John Bartlett

Both Christine and John are very grateful to Red Cross for providing personal support over the past year. "It gave me someone to talk to, to vent anything you didn't feel too good about, it was really good," Christine says.

John has also found Red Cross support invaluable. "Red Cross were always there, they wanted to give us a hand and they left a few booklets, they helped us out, a bit of peace of mind. You didn't feel so stressed."

Much of the mess on their property has been sorted out, Christine says though she points out "we're still cleaning up ... still a lot of rubbish piled." Every day the floods pose a new challenge. "I don't think it will ever be back to the normal way. There's always something that's there that reminds you, 'yeah, the flood did that'."

Every morning, Christine and John get up and watch the birds, kangaroos and other wildlife. Christine gets solace from being at one with nature. "I can sit for hours and just watch them," she says.

Christine also finds peace in taking photos of birds and other wildlife and sometimes paints as well.

John says he would not be anywhere else. "We are lucky, yeah. I couldn't ask for anymore. I love it". Christine agrees. "I wouldn't go anywhere else. I love it, I really do ... because it is absolutely beautiful."

Antony Balmain
- January 2011

How giving it up will help...

$150 will help train outreach volunteers, in the aftermath of a flood, fire or cyclone, to assist community recovery through practical advice, emotional support and referrals to local services.